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Hazardous Materials

Our modern industrial cities are laden with chemical and petroleum products that could contribute substantially to the generation of toxic products following an earthquake (61). Industrial storage facilities for hazardous materials might explode or leak, and damage at a nuclear power plant could lead to widespread contamination by radioactive materials. In a major earthquake, pipelines carrying natural gas, water, and sewage can be expected to be disrupted. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, about 20% of after-earthquake injuries were caused by toxic materials (31).

Efforts to remove trapped occupants from a collapsed building may also expose rescuers to a variety of hazards such as those from damaged utilities (48). For example, the destruction of buildings and industrial facilities by any catastrophe will invariably result in ruptured electrical, water, gas, and sewer lines. Other hazards will be escaping gases and chemicals used in refrigeration units and in certain industrial operations. Thus, rescue personnel must constantly observe all safety precautions to protect themselves from injury.